Idaho was my destination this time and I was after black bear with my archery gear. I already have one bear under my belt with a rifle. After not seeing a bear last year in Manitoba I decided to try a US based wilderness area as not only was the price right, I could bag two bears if I wanted. The area has a high concentration of colored black bear, another attraction.
I was to hunt the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness Area in eastern central Idaho in June 2004. Because it is an official wilderness area, there are no motors allowed. That means there are no roads, which means no ATV’s, no 4X4’s, no modern conveniences at all. With a truly western flavor, I was to find out would be one of the most satisfying hunts I have been on for over all experience.
Hunters are flown by bush plane to a grass strip in the middle of this mountain wilderness. Once dropped off, you and your gear are packed and secured onto mules and stout mountain horses for the trek to the spike camp where I would be staying. It was a nearly two-hour ride through a wonderful, mature forest of giant fir, Ponderosa pine, and red cedar. There were five water crossing with decent wood bridges and our horses carried us without missing a step all the way. We were camped on the east branch of Moose Creek, which looked like a river to me. Home for my hunt was a traditional canvas wall tent complete with wood stove and cot. There was a woodland shower area set up at the river’s edge and heated by propane. Hot showers even in the wilderness! It was nervy being naked on that river soaping up. After a shower, I secured my gear, changed to hunting clothes, and was taken to my tree stand via horseback for my first night’s hunt.
My horse was named Half Ton; he was a very wide Quarter Horse gelding who obviously knew his way around mountains, tons of deadfall, and loose rocks. What a trooper, he would even pack bear carcasses out of the bush! Something most horses will absolutely not allow. Although I am a very experienced rider I was highly impressed with his ability to negotiate deadfalls in the pitch darkness riding back to camp each night.
After getting in my stand, my guide Jordan set out one gallon of grease and then lit a burn. One gallon I thought would surely not be enough bait to draw in a bear I thought, but this turned out to be a most effective way to draw bears in. The scent of smoking grease and anise flows for miles in the mountain breeze. The bait sight was cleverly placed on my side of a large fallen tree. The position of the tree would cause the bears to come broadside to the bait, so they would have no choice if they wanted to feed.
My first night was productive with a beautiful chocolate bear oblivious to my presence. I could see he was small and opted to watch his nervous antics as he filled his hunger on the treat left for him. I noticed how nervous he was, never leaving his head down long, he constantly scanned for danger. As time went on I carefully noted he did leave his head down longer and longer. After eating his fill, the little chocolate relaxed some and entertained me further by rubbing on trees and galloping about playing in the forest.
I saw several bears each night and some larger ones came in too late for a shot. I could barely see them and once they heard the sound of the guide and the horses returning for me these bears would scoot off like lightning. None of them ever detected me. The smaller bears were always in the earliest, but it was obvious they feared the bigger bears, which they knew, were lurking close by. I saw a second small bear that was most unique in that it was a blonde and black "calico" color. I left that one too, but it ended up as 14-year-old boy’s trophy later in the week.
Day four became stormy in the afternoon with several squalls ripping through. I wore my rain gear for the trip to the stand. As my guide and I approached the stand I saw movement from our position with the stand location uphill from us. There was a bear already on the bait at just after three in the afternoon. We took up a position behind the trees and took a look. It was a fairly large black bear and he had no idea we were there. This presented a problem, as I needed to get into the stand. I suggested we make some noise, like snapping twigs so the bear would think another bear was approaching. It worked like a charm and the bear shot off like a rocket without even looking in our direction. I got into my stand and the guide set out fresh bait and lit a burn.
Soon after settling in another squall came through and the winds picked up very strongly. I was startled by what I thought was a rifle shot and surprised thinking I was the only person here. At the end of that thought I heard what the real cause of the noise was… a huge tree snapping in the wind and hitting the ground like a thunderbolt. It was so loud I nearly jumped off the tree stand. That sure got the heart beating! The weather settled after that and I waited the afternoon out relaxing with my eyes closed and my ears open.
Journal entry: Crunch! Eyes open, scan, see nothing…Minutes pass. Close eyes, crackle, open eyes, and see large black bear off to my right, heading down wind of me. Yikes! Will he scent me?
The bear went cautiously downwind and I thought for sure, he was going to bust me. I had noticed how each bear I had seen did the same thing; they went down wind of the bait to smell for trouble. I was convinced they were looking for other bears. Apparently not relying on sight alone, but the smell and how current the scent was.
Satisfied, the big bear walked toward the bait with a new confidence. His route took him in front of my stand and as he passed me he stopped briefly to yawn widely. His fur was glistening in the low evening sunlight. It was here I saw just how large the cream colored patch on the front of his chest was. His coat was truly magnificent, not a hair out of place and very thick and very long. I kept focusing on the creamy patch of hair on his chest. It looked very unique to me. The bear had a large head so I decided in my mind it was a boar and I would kill this bear.
After his yawn, he walked to the bait site and stood on the fallen tree taking one last survey of the surroundings. He attempted to eat from the backside of the log, but could not reach his treat so he clambered over and nervously set to work on the small offering. As with the other bears, this one would take a quick bite and look around and as time went on, his head stayed down longer. He was perfectly positioned broadside, I just needed the patience to wait out the right time to draw my 65 pound bow. I was just 16 yards away, close enough I felt like I could touch him.
We all know how hard it is to wait, time seemed to drag but in reality, it probably was only a few minutes. Timing is everything and I waited until he dropped his head one more time. I drew my bow and leaned towards my target and took careful aim at my spot of hair on the side of the bear. I could see the crease of his shoulder. I settled my pin and took one last look and saw his attention had not wavered from his meal. I could not believe it, this bear was mine, and I already knew it as soon as I released my arrow.
My arrow flew absolutely true, I knew it was a killing shot the instant the arrow hit. It disappeared into the bear’s vitals and blasted out the other side over the fallen tree. I don’t think the bear knew what hit him, rather the sound of the bow startled him. He took three running leaps stopped and looked back, walked two steps and stood up on the second step and flipped over backwards. A long and low death moan followed; there was no struggle. The bear managed about 50 feet from the point of impact. He was down and he was mine. The first bear I have taken with a bow, my third bear hunt and my most exciting to date.
I anticipated the arrival of my guide at dark and it turned out the outfitter himself came for me. As he got to the base of my tree stand I asked him if he brought a knife. A big smile lit across his face, I could see it in the near darkness. We went to my bear, a gorgeous mature black boar of between seven and eight years of age. What a thrill it was to walk up on this beautiful animal.
- Parker Ultralite Pro set at 65 Pounds
- Easton Redline Arrows
- Steel Force 100-grain broadheads
- True Fire Hurricane Release
- Toxonics sight
- Whisker Biscuit
- Scentlock One Piece suit
- Scentlock boots
Hunt cost: $1750 including tags for two bears and hunting license.
For information on this outfitter and your chance to hunt this beautiful area contact me.